The Toronto Star
January 15, 2009

Lesley Ciarula Taylor
Immigration Reporter

With his slightly off-kilter paisley bow tie and thick London accent, Sanwar Ali looks the part of a global salesman.

What he and partner James Dunlop are selling at is dispassionate, comprehensive knowledge about how to get into Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Of that group of four, “Canada would probably be No. 2” in terms of being the easiest for skilled workers to get into, Ali says. “Australia is probably the easiest because they have a wide range of qualifications you can have.”

With a startling facility to reel off visa types and qualifications while quieting his half-Latvian, half-British children, Ali acknowledges that Canada is trying to address the monumental backlogs and the disconnect between credentials and actual jobs that have thwarted many an immigrant.

The problem with Canada, he says, is that once the six-year window to wiggle through the system elapses, the labour market could have changed radically.

“They’ve changed the list so it’s geared to what jobs are in demand, although nobody really knows how that’s going to work.”

Ali is referring to the 38 priority jobs Citizenship and Immigration Canada has just listed for permanent residents. But Canada still hangs on to a stark demarcation between skilled, university-educated professionals who get permanent residence immediately and tradespeople on temporary work permits.

About the year 2000, Canada recognized that its “doctors-driving-cabs” syndrome was critical.

“The programs all started coming in at once,” says Melinda Kao, co-ordinator of the Humber Centre for Internationally Trained Professionals and Rexdale Employment Resource Centre at Humber College. “Sometimes, they were at cross purposes with each other or competing with each other. It was kind of odd.”

Immigrants were upset about: lack of information during the years they awaited their papers; English training that was too vague, and settlement services geared only to survival, according to a critical 2006 study, which was part of a review of the Canada-Ontario immigration agreement.

From that was born skill-specific ESL classes, bridging programs and mentorships. In 2007, the Office of the Fairness Commissioner was established to figure out how to create “fair access” to the 35 regulated professions – from physicians and foresters to engineers and midwives.

“Canada does not compare favourably” with other countries, says the office’s first fairness commissioner, Jean Augustine.

Australia takes a shorter period of time – an average of six to 18 months – to get immigrants in the country, she says. “The longer you stay out of a profession, the more it dulls your acuity. An individual should know right away if they are in or out and what they have to do when they get here.”

The Canadian Immigration Integration Project is one ingredient in an alphabet soup of programs and services aimed at fixing the disconnect between skilled immigrants and jobs. A pilot program of the federal government, it uses field officers in Guangzhou (China), New Delhi and Manila to brief immigrants and prepare them for life and job-hunting in Canada.

There’s also the Centre for Internationally Trained Professionals, the Consortium of Agencies Serving Internationally Trained Professionals, Global Experience Ontario, scores of settlement agencies and government websites, and a dozen professional websites.

In February, the Progress Career Planning Institute will hold its sixth conference to match employers, bureaucrats, regulatory bodies and immigrants. The institute launched the conference after finding 70 per cent of immigrants had problems finding employers and 72 per cent of employers had problems hiring foreign-trained workers. In 2007, a third of the several hundred immigrants in attendance were engineers – and almost none of them were working in their field.

When immigrants don’t find jobs in their field, they have no choice but to turn to other occupations. Stella Rahman, co-ordinator of cultural interpretation services at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, became a translator when 16 years of clinical experience as a family doctor and proficiency in five languages, including English, couldn’t get her a licence to practise in Ontario.

The Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons isn’t filling all the residencies it has available for foreign-trained doctors, Rahman says. There are about 3,000 foreign-trained doctors waiting, their numbers swollen with Canadian-born graduates who went to medical school overseas.

“It’s a big-dollar item,” explains Augustine. “Residencies cost quite a bit of money for the taxpayers. My role is to create systemic change.”

Reference: Toronto Star